Passion for Craft Evident in Local Winery Owners

Owning a winery sounds romantic: strolling through lush
grapevines in a state of peace and tranquility, hardly a care in
the world.
Owning a winery sounds romantic: strolling through lush grapevines in a state of peace and tranquility, hardly a care in the world.

Don’t let romanticism fool you – owning a winery is hard work. Worry, stress and sweat are all part of the equation.

David and Valerie Vanni know this firsthand. The Vannis have been the proprietors of Solis Winery since 1989, the year they purchased approximately 12 acres of land just off Hecker Pass Highway, a parcel of the famed Rancho de Solis.

“Adventure landed at our feet. We took advantage of the opportunity. Each day brings a different challenge,” David said.

Although the winery business can be tumultuous, David and Valerie wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We love what we do. We could not ask for anything more,” Valerie said.

The Vannis recently opened their friendly and welcoming facility to the public for their annual Wine & Cheese Classic, which took place Nov. 12 and 13.

When I arrived at the event, several others were enjoying the gorgeous surroundings, live music and of course, one of the nine releases currently under the Solis label. The Vannis grow their own grapes, or they buy all their grapes from local Santa Clara County vineyards.

The tasting room was packed. A small line stretched out the door, where visitors and wine club members waited patiently on the wrap-around porch.

One of the features of this event was the tasting of the winery’s pre-release 2002 Estate Carignane, a delightful wine made from old vine plants that exist on the property.

“We made about 300 cases of this wine but have since turned the plants over to other varietals,” David said.

The rarity of the grape lends to its unique structure and flavor. The wine is a nice companion to a holiday meal.

I decided to put this to the test. My brother Will and my sister Lisa were visiting from out of town. Because we live hundreds of miles apart from each other, we have to cherish the time we can spend together. So, we cracked open a bottle and cooked an early Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. This particular wine paired well with turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes.

The Wine & Cheese Classic also allowed guests to sample some of the Solis 2005 Vino Roseo, a dark, blush-like wine that is bottled right after fermentation. This wine is slightly tart and sweet, with hints of clove, orange and cranberry. This 400 case release is currently available for less than $10 a bottle and also makes a nice addition to the holiday table.

I wasn’t the only person who enjoyed my time at the Solis event. John and Marlene Bolla, members of six wine clubs including the club at Solis, said wine tasting gives him and Marlene a chance to meet new people, socialize and enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor. The Bollas usually go to wine tastings about two times a month.

“We love coming to Solis. They have good wines and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. We feel at home here, which is very important to us,” John said.

When asked about how they became wine enthusiasts, Marlene was quick to point out that she was the one who introduced wine to John.

“I took an introduction to wine class at the Mirassou Winery years ago. By taking the class, it really helped to develop my interest and appreciation for all things good about wine,” she said.

Solis Winery has about 1,000 wine club members. The winery puts on about 10 special events a year that are open to the public, as well as special dinners reserved for wine club members.

The Solis Winery tasting room is open from 11am to 5pm seven days a week. Wines can be purchased at local markets or by calling (408) 847-6306. Check out the complete listing of wines and prices at

“We get a lot of people dropping in to taste wine that come from Sacramento, Fresno, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Still, the majority of people come from the local vicinity. These folks, these friends, are the backbone of our enterprise,” David said.

The Vannis and the staff at Solis Winery care about treating their customers with warm hospitality. Their passion extends into the wines they craft. Friendly surroundings always make a good bottle of wine taste even better.

Bottle of the Week

Sarah’s Vineyard, Gilroy

Wine: Chardonnay (2003)

Price: $25

Grape: 100 percent chardonnay

Flavors: Cinnamon, oak, spice and vanilla

Why: “It’s delicious and wonderful and it will make your day,” said Tim Slater, the winery’s proprietor.

Where: The wine can be purchased at Sarah’s Vineyard, located at 4005 Hecker Pass Highway in Gilroy. Tastings are from noon to 5pm on Fridays and 11am to 5pm on weekends. For more information, call (408) 842-4278

Chronicle’s Wine Selections: Oregon Pinot Gris

Here are the panel picks from the 27 Oregon Pinot Gris from 2003 and 2004.

2004 Benton-Lane

$15; Medium Dry; Attractive melon, stone fruit, pear and citrus on palate with flavros of apple skin and lemon lemono candy.

2004 Bethel Heights

$17; Full; Semidry Flavors of white flower, pink grapefruit, candied orange and spice. A hint of ginger on the finish.

200 Elk Cove Vineyard

$17; Full Dry Very Ripe; Candied grapefruit, tangerine, citrus, blossom, mango and spicy pear. Some alcohol, but balanced for the style.

2004 Foris

$14; Full, Dry; Honeysuckle, grapefruit, mango, apple and vanilla aromas. Spicy palate with stone fruit, lemon tart apple; Rogue Valley skin and earth.

2004 Iris Hill

$13; Full Dry; Rich nose of vanilla, dried apple, pear and lanolin with slight Oregon herb notes; peach, ripe pear and semidry quince.

2004 King Estate

$15; Medium, Dry; Excellent and the panel favorite; Subtle aromas of Meyer Oregon, lemon, nectarine, white grapefruit and white peach; similar flavors plus green apple and orange peel; well balanced.

2004 WillaKenzie Estate

$18; Medium; Semidry Alsatian in style, with jasmine and tropical fruit aromas and Willametter Valley rich ripe peach and crisp citrus flavors. A hint of honey and apricot nectar add complexity.

200 Willmette Valley

$15; Medium; Semidry Citrus and Granny Smith apple aromas are followed by mouth-Vineyards watering citrus, melon and white peach flavors with refreshing acidity.

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